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14 September.

It helps to have a deadline. An internal sense arises that helps steer me away from false starts and time-wasting fascination with useless details.

As a techie, it’s easy to waste hours with the “gee whiz” aspect of things that won’t actually be used in this phase of the project. A deadline helps set a time limit on mental wandering.

I just recently completed the second conference call with the online magazine publisher who is my website client. Our first conference call, last Tuesday (10 Aug), I used the free “DimDim” screen-sharing service (I do not name these things) to show her the prototype Drupal website, and a variety of themes so we could get a baseline of the “look and feel” she desires.

This week, she e-mailed me PDF samples of her magazine for an idea of the fonts and color scheme, and we discussed various aspects of the behind-the-scenes pre-construction concerns such as:

  • What information would we collect from people who visit the site?
  • What content will be visible to everyone?
  • What “premium” content will only be visible to those who sign up and log onto the website?
  • How will the site integrate with social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter?
  • How will we catalog and categorize user information and site content so that we can cross-reference information, and present customized views to each user?
  • How will the website communicate with off-line site members (email/SMS/twitter/et al)?
  • Can/will there be Google Apps integration?

and so forth. A dozen plus years of corporate IT support taught me that to successfully complete complicated projects quickly, the 80/20 rule means

80 percent of the effort is the work done in the first 20 percent of the project

It’s all in the advanced planning. Drupal, like Joomla! and WordPress, give Small Businesses the ability to do nearly anything that can be done with a website, cheaply and easily. Cheaply and easily, that is, if you plan what you want the site to do first, then determine what information and configuration you’ll require to accomplish that.

This means you do the heavy lifting — database mapping, form building — before you worry about things like appearance and layout. Once you make sure everything works properly, you not only can take your time arranging it, but you’ll find it’s easy to arrange things when you’re not inventing them at the same time.

By taking this top-down approach, we ended our call with a series of milestones mapped to the calendar:

  • Look and feel final conference – 18 Aug
  • Soft launch (moving site to production server) – 28 Aug
  • Meet with site editor & content contributors – 1 Sep
  • Content freeze and performance shakedown – 6 Sep

A pretty aggressive schedule, but the only way we can actually launch a site that doesn’t exist yet is to determine precisely the tasks and sequence of actions required, and strictly adhere to a no-nonsense schedule. Which you don’t tend to do when the due-date is months away, or more.

It helps to have a deadline… or so goes the theory

More to come